The AAFP has been at the center of the fight against tobacco and nicotine for decades. Now, with increased energy, national partnerships and bold new initiatives, the Academy looks to move to the forefront.
Tobacco and nicotine products such as e-cigarettes have flooded the market and are fueling a significant increase in use among young people. Tobacco use remains the leading preventable cause of disease, disability and death in the United States.
There's no question that family physicians can exert considerable influence in the fight against tobacco and nicotine via their ability to reach family members at all stages of their lives. At least 70 percent of tobacco users in the United States see a physician every year, according to a 2008 HHS clinical practice guideline(bphc.hrsa.gov) on treating tobacco use and dependence.
To support family physicians' continued efforts, the AAFP is developing a comprehensive tobacco and nicotine prevention and control program that will be broader in scope than its current activities. The program will encompass new office-based tools, community programs and advocacy at the national and community levels to fight tobacco and nicotine.
- The AAFP is developing a comprehensive tobacco and nicotine prevention and control program that will encompass new office-based tools, community programs and advocacy at the national and community levels.
- During the past 26 years, Tar Wars has reached millions of fourth- and fifth-grade students with tobacco-free education.
- Given that the age groups most at risk for smoking are changing, Tar Wars and the Academy's other tobacco- and nicotine-fighting activities will likewise shift focus.
Focus of Tar Wars Program to Grow
Until now, the AAFP's tobacco prevention efforts have been focused primarily on engaging fourth- and fifth-grade students through the Tar Wars program. During the past 26 years, Tar Wars has reached millions of these students with tobacco-free education. This important program will not go away. But the AAFP's approach to tobacco prevention and cessation will change.
"Research is showing that the at-risk age groups for smoking are shifting," said Julie Wood, M.D., AAFP vice president of health of the public and science and interprofessional activities. "We also know that our members are interested in getting the prevention message to their patients, but have been asking for additional methods to Tar Wars. We felt it was time to take a broader, bolder look at both tobacco prevention and cessation."
Although the Tar Wars program will continue, the AAFP Tar Wars National Conference and the national poster and video contests will be discontinued so that funding and resources can be focused on comprehensive efforts aimed at tobacco and nicotine prevention and cessation for all ages.
Chapters are welcome to continue to conduct state poster contests and recognize their state winner at the local level. Each year, the AAFP will offer eligible chapters and family medicine residencies the opportunity to apply for 10 customizable mini-grants of $4,000 to fund tobacco-control efforts at the state and local level.
The Academy will focus on promoting Tar Wars to more family medicine residents, family medicine interest groups and medical students to present the program in their communities. Tar Wars educational materials will be available online, as well.
Tar Wars co-founder and AAFP Board Chair Jeff Cain, M.D., of Denver, said he is optimistic about the future of Tar Wars and the Academy's tobacco prevention and cessation efforts moving forward.
"I'm excited the Academy continues to have Tar Wars be an important part of our tobacco advocacy efforts and is now making it a signature program, giving tools to states so that medical schools, family medicine interest groups and the states can have new (resources) to innovate," Cain said. "This will help move Tar Wars forward into the 21st century."
AAFP to Increase Collaborative Efforts
To expand its reach, the AAFP will continue to work in unison with other national organizations to spread tobacco prevention and cessation messages across the country.
During the AAFP Youth & Tobacco Prevention Summit in Washington in April, the Academy hosted tobacco-prevention stakeholders from public and private sectors to better align those efforts.
Wood said she was pleased the Academy was able to bring key stakeholders to the same table for the first time and that the AAFP's partners now have a better understanding of how family physicians and primary care practices can play an important role in those partners' upcoming work, campaigns and research.
"We are really excited to be working with partners such as Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids and Legacy, who do outstanding work with youth activism and peer support, to strengthen our prevention message to a broader group of at-risk youth," she said.
Wood also pointed to the AAFP's recent collaboration with the American Academy of Pediatrics on unified tobacco prevention efforts and messaging as an example of increasing that outreach.
Family Physicians Are Key Part of the Solution
It's keenly important for the Academy's family physician members to be involved in the fight against tobacco and nicotine. The AAFP, its chapters and individual members will need to work in partnership to put a serious dent in the tobacco and nicotine epidemic.
During the April tobacco summit, Wood said a common message from external partners was that family physicians need to realize their voices are powerful and influential when speaking against tobacco use.
"Ideally, we can do that more often, and the AAFP can make it quick and easy for the busy FP to do so -- for example, offering the recent e-cigarette petition to sign," she said. "There are also a lot of advocates in each state already. So, if we can have a better network organized of these advocates, we can activate when issues come up and have a higher impact."
Members also are invited to read the AAFP's revised "Preventing and Treating Nicotine Dependence and Tobacco Use" position paper, which was recently approved by the Board of Directors and supports the new program. The paper includes information about the changing landscape of tobacco and nicotine use, the family physician's role in fighting tobacco and nicotine use with at-risk populations, and a call to action.
Members can read more about the AAFP's comprehensive tobacco and nicotine control plan -- and what they can do to help -- in a Board Report to the Congress of Delegates that will become available to members in September.
This comprehensive initiative was developed by the Health of the Public and Science Division after a thorough analysis of current AAFP tobacco control efforts. Key stakeholders within the Academy, as well as national thought leaders and partners, helped assess the AAFP's current tobacco prevention and control activities and assisted in charting the way for this expanded, strategic approach.
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